The Classical Note: Why Won’t the Dallas Symphony Perform More Works by Living Composers?

One of the most important functions of a symphony orchestra is the presentation of masterworks from the past. The Dallas Symphony has a history of doing so and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Another significant function of a symphony orchestra is the presentation and exploration of new music by living composers—something orchestras have done since orchestras were invented. The Dallas Symphony has a commendable record of doing this in the past, and the audience in Dallas has shown itself to be open and amenable to such works. Because of the work of the Dallas Symphony and other presenting organizations in the area, North Texas audiences have remained reasonably sophisticated and versed in the trends of contemporary music.

Which is why the orchestra’s recently announced 2013-14 classical season, which has much to commend it within individual concerts, is shocking in the scarcity of works by living composers. Across America, much smaller orchestras with much smaller budgets—and, in some cases, much less sophisticated audiences—have continued, in recent years, to increase programming of works by contemporary composers. One need only look thirty miles to the west, to the Fort Worth Symphony, to see a less well-financed organization, facing many of the same trends and challenges that the Dallas Symphony faces, regularly presenting new works to its audience, with no complaints.

The 2013-14 season of the Dallas Symphony, meanwhile, will include some notable box office-boosting block-busters (for instance, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Verdi’s Requiem) as well as some intriguing forays off the beaten musical path to rarities by Suk, Britten, Milhaud, Shostakovich, and Geminiani. However, among two dozen composers represented on the classical season, only one is a living composer, American Conrad Tao—and this at a point in history at which there are probably more great composers and, moreover, more great American composers alive than ever before.

Music director Jaap van Zweden conducts brilliantly, and does so consistently. If, however, he can find space in the season for Josef Suk, Darius Milhaud, and Francesco Geminiani, why cant’ he find room for a few of the composers of our time?


Who can argue with the combination of opera and Julia Child? Food-loving opera buffs can combine two interests Saturday when the Dallas Opera presents Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appetit!, a one-woman chamber opera starring mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely as the venerable icon of American cuisine. Nicely, accompanied by pianist Mary Dibbern, will perform at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Farmer’s Market Demonstration Kitchen. Admission is free but reservations are required.

Photo: Conrad Tao, whose commissioned work, The World is Very Different Now, will be the only piece by a living composer performed by the DSO during their 2013-2014 season. (Image courtesy of IMG Artists)